Cracking ice bodes well for Antarctica ship rescue

Cracking ice bodes well for Antarctica ship rescue
This handout image released by the Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science at the University of New South Wales and taken by Andrew Peacock of www.footloosefotography.com on December 27, 2013 shows the ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy trapped in the ice at sea off Antarctica. A Chinese icebreaker was on December 27 closing in on the frozen seas where the scientific mission ship was trapped off Antarctica, as those onboard welcomed the easing of blizzard conditions. The ship, with 74 people on board, has been trapped in ice about 100 nautical miles east of the French base Dumont D'Urville since December 24.

PERTH, Australia - Ice that has trapped a Russian ship with 74 people on board in Antarctica appeared to be cracking up on Sunday, raising hopes for a rescue as a powerful Australian icebreaker approached the stranded vessel.

The ice-bound ship, the Akademik Shokalskiy, left New Zealand on Nov. 28 on a privately funded expedition to commemorate the 100th anniversary of an Antarctic journey led by famed Australian explorer Douglas Mawson.

It has been stuck in the ice since Dec. 24. Its passengers include scientists and tourists, many of them Australian, and a Russian crew.

The Australian icebreaker the Aurora Australis is expected to reach the stricken ship at about midnight on Sunday.

A Chinese icebreaker could not break through the thick ice earlier but the weather on Sunday boded well for a rescue.

"The ice conditions seem to have improved and there appears to be some softening and some cracks appearing," Lisa Martin of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is coordinating the rescue, told Reuters.

Just how the rescue would be done would be worked out when the Aurora reached the area, she said.

Those on board were in good condition and have never been in any imminent danger. "We're primarily looking to the Aurora to get us out," Chris Turney, an Australian professor onboard the beleaguered ship who is leading the expedition, wrote in an email to Reuters on Sunday. "Hopefully there are some breaks developing in the surface from the weaker winds and sun during today."

The ship is stuck about 100 nautical miles (185 km) east of the French Antarctic station Dumont D'Urville and about 1,500 nautical miles (2,800 km) south of Hobart, Tasmania.

The Aurora is the third icebreaker seconded by the Australian maritime rescue agency to try to reach the hemmed in ship.

The Chinese icebreaker, the Snow Dragon, is on standby at the edge of the ice and within sight of the trapped ship. It has a helicopter on board which could be used in the rescue.

A French icebreaker had also tried to help.

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